For anyone who cares about breast cancer, the very public battle over Susan G. Komen For the Cure and its funding of Planned Parenthood’s breast care programs has triggered emotions ranging from anger to dismay to sadness. It’s also raised important questions about how breast cancer organizations use the sweat-earned money breast cancer survivors and their family members and friends raise.
That’s why I think it’s important for us to take this opportunity to use the public awareness about breast cancer funding to refocus attention on the need for research that will take us beyond a cure and figure out what causes this disease, so that we can end it.
As I said in my essay in the New York Times, because we do not know what causes breast cancer, we focus on looking for cancers that are already there. We’ve been doing this since the 1950s, when the first screening study demonstrated a 30 percent decrease in deaths from breast cancer. But decades later, the success rate of screening remains nearly the same, even with much better imaging: routine mammography screening results in a 15- to 20-percent decrease in mortality in women over age 50.
The problem is, as we now know, that there are at least five, and probably more, different types of breast tumors, and they grow at different rates. Some are so aggressive that they have almost always spread before they are visible on mammogram. But other tumors, if left alone, may never spread at all and do not need to be found. This doesn’t mean we should stop screening. Mammography remains the best tool we have. But we have to stop trying to make mammography better and start performing more research focused on finding what causes this disease.
I think that we can also say that when we’ve got the NFL wearing pink, we have achieved awareness. We need to go all the way and stop this disease. If we could discover that HPV causes cancer of the cervix, and then develop a vaccine to prevent it, there is no reason we can’t do the same for cancer of the breast! In fact, we are currently collaborating on research to look for an infectious cause of breast cancer. It is challenging to do this out-of-the-box research. It takes friends, focus, and funds! But if we don’t do it, who will?
If you agree with me, I hope that you will take this opportunity to support our work by giving a gift of love this Valentine’s Day to honor every woman and man you know who has raised money to fight this disease by making a gift to the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation. This gift will go to fund research that will move us beyond mammograms, beyond the status quo, and toward a future where we can prevent this disease because we know the cause.